Border closures are keeping some FIFO workers away from their kids and families — while interstate ‘essential workers’ are let in.
Border closures are keeping some FIFO workers away from their kids and families — while interstate ‘essential workers’ are let in.

FIFO wives’ heartache as COVID rules separate families

WAVING goodbye to the love of her life and father of her children is not new for Burnie mum Bec Harding - but in a global pandemic, not knowing for sure the next time he'll be home is what breaks her.

But what also breaks her is the community backlash for speaking out about her family's plight and the unrelenting questions over why they should be given sympathy.

"Why send him back? Why can't he get a job at home? Doesn't he want to spend time with his kids? Why can't he just come home and isolate?" Mrs Harding says of the queries she often hears.

With job opportunities for her husband Jake limited in Tasmania, she said quitting his FIFO mining job wasn't an option.

Burnie mum Bec Harding with husband Jake and children Alexis, 6, Jack, 5, and Oscar, 3. Photo: Flick + Dave Photography
Burnie mum Bec Harding with husband Jake and children Alexis, 6, Jack, 5, and Oscar, 3. Photo: Flick + Dave Photography

 

"What will stop him from being let go first once companies start to struggle? I have seen first-hand so many friends and family, being laid off and suspended - some who have been loyal to their employers for years," Mrs Harding said.

"He does not choose to leave us because he does not love his kids, it is because he loves us that he does this to give us everything we need and ensures that we never go without."

Mrs Harding is joining a growing number of Tasmanian FIFO families lobbying the State Government for better freedoms when coming home to their families in the midst of the pandemic.

The majority of Tasmanian-based FIFO workers on a growing Facebook community group work in South Australia and Western Australia - two states with low numbers of active cases and little to no community transmission.

"Not only are you having to meet one state's requirements, but several and each smaller department has their own restrictions," the mum of three explained.

"You can isolate at home now if you can actually get home, or you can pay a hefty sum to isolate in a hotel - but that's only if you can afford the astronomical plane fares.

"The lack of direct flights home, company travel and transit restrictions and the lengthy G2G approval processes … I can count on one hand how many I've seen approved … are just a few more hurdles FIFO workers face too."

 

Photo: Flick + Dave Photography
Photo: Flick + Dave Photography

 

Mrs Harding said reading about travel exemptions being made for interstate workers to come to Tasmania was an "emotional rollercoaster".

"Six contractors for a Dominos store fit out or a business executive for a hotel opening - how are these considered essential and why couldn't they be sourced locally?" she asked.

But she said FIFO workers and their families were "not asking for exemptions to the rules".

"All I want to advocate for is that FIFO workers are considered in the choices being made daily," Mrs Harding said.

"FIFO workers are just fighting for their right to be able to work and earn a living for their family and return home to see that family.

"FIFO workers need the government's support now more than ever - whether it be for financial support, mental illness support or implementing ways that FIFO workers can come home safely without being considered a risk to others."

 

'Constant cycle of isolation'

Launceston FIFO worker James Marshall has been able to step outside his house for a total of about 10 days since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

His wife Stephanie has sent dozens of emails to Premier Peter Gutwein, Police Commissioner Darren Hine and Director of Public Health Mark Veitch and Senator Jacqui Lambie to plead their case on behalf of all Tasmanian FIFO workers.

READ HER FULL LETTER BELOW:

 

Dear Mr Gutwein and Senator Lambie,

I am writing because you may not be aware that the border closures into Tasmania are STILL keeping Tasmanian FIFO workers locked out of their state, their homes and away from their children and families.

Let me explain why …

 

 

FIFO workers are required to isolate for 14 days at home on return to Tasmanian.

This sounds like it should be a good option. Unfortunately it doesn't work.

Due to the 14 days isolation they are still unable to go and collect their children from their ex partners from other parts of the state and are stuck inside and that's IF they can come home at all.

We have not heard anything from our Tasmanian Government about the hundreds, possibly thousands of FIFO Tasmanian workers who have either:

  • Stayed, for nearly four months, at their place of work, in another state, due to Tasmania's closures since March. We are about to head into July! That is a long time to be at work alone and in hotel rooms!
  • Quit their jobs so they could return home.
  • Come home once or twice in the last several months and have seen their children once or twice in the space of now nearly four months.

It is not a simple 'you can come home and be at your house' for FIFO workers as the Tasmanian Government has suggested.

Many are unable to do the 14 days in Tasmania, due to their work shifts, because they have to return to work before the 14 days is up.

This means that returning home, for many, is pointless, as they live alone or away from their children in a separated family situation, so they never get to have freedom from isolation and cannot go and collect their children.

So many families are separated, which means that the isolated FIFO worker is not allowed to travel around the state to collect their children to ex partners to fulfil their child custody agreements. This also has implications for child support.

 

Coal mining in an open pit
Coal mining in an open pit

 

If the FIFO worker has less nights with their child, they are required to pay more to the other separated parent.

Having been away for months, the FIFO worker can be up for thousands of dollars now too.

How is any of this fair? It is kind of like saying: Either quit your job and then you can see your family OR keep your job and livelihood BUT you can't come home or see your family for months.

Emotionally and mentally FIFO is already an isolating experience.

It is lonely, depressing and stressful at the best of times. Living in a remote, one bedroom camp.

Then add months of isolation in hotel rooms and add in the stress of trying to get to and from work with limited flights going, different state rules and border restrictions in place and those rules and laws changing every week.

Each week I see and hear you saying that Tasmanians should now travel at home and make the most out of Tasmania. Boost our tourism here in Tasmania.

That would be lovely, but my husband cannot go anywhere or do anything in Tasmania, due to him having to isolate every single time he comes home.

Week after week. I keep seeing Tasmanians getting excited about going to their shacks, seeing their parents, visiting a beach or a national park, or simply just going to a supermarket.

My husband cannot do any of these things.

He has to return to work before he can complete the 14 days isolation.

So he has to choose to stay at work in South Australia or come and sit inside at home in Tasmania.

 

Launceston couple James and Stephanie Marshall.
Launceston couple James and Stephanie Marshall.

 

James rarely gets to see his daughter due to the COVID quarantine rules placed on FIFO workers.
James rarely gets to see his daughter due to the COVID quarantine rules placed on FIFO workers.

 

He cannot collect his daughter for her fortnightly visits.

He simply does not get to see his daughter. We live in Launceston and he is not allowed to leave home.

I would like you to consider the following and I would appreciate a response to this request:

*In South Australia, Tasmanians and FIFO workers do not need to be isolated for 14 days. As part of my husband's work, they get a COVID-19 test on arrival in to SA. They then isolate for 48 hours and are able to go to their mine site once the test has come back negative.

This approach could be applied here in Tasmania and would benefit Tasmanians in a number of ways:

  • 1. No family members living with the FIFO worker will be going out into the Tasmanian community or schools carrying COVID-19 with them (if the FIFO worker has it). Currently FIFO workers isolate for 14 days, BUT their family members, children etc can all carry COVID-19 out of the house during these 14 days. If the test was applied immediately on return for FIFO workers into Tasmania, and if results came back positive in the space of two days, it will contain the spread much faster, as family can then isolate too rather than roaming around Tasmania for 14 days with a sick FIFO worker at home.
  • 2. FIFO workers that have been unable to come home since March due to a 14 day mandatory isolation will now be able to.
  • 3. FIFO workers will be able to leave their houses to collect their children from other towns and areas in Tasmania from ex partners and see their children for the first time in months. This also goes for seeing elderly parents and other family that have been all separated since March.

 

Hobart Airport
Hobart Airport

 

There is now a Facebook group for Tasmanian FIFO families and their stories are heartbreaking.

We feel that this class of Tasmanians has been completely ignored and forgotten about, because unless you live and work in these conditions it is hard to picture how these border closures impact the worker BUT also the entire family.

My husband's little girl cries regularly because she can't see her dad.

There has been so much stress and so many tears because these poor people just can't come home and live any sort of life.

PLEASE consider either testing FIFO workers as they enter Tasmania and giving them freedom in Tasmania after the test results come back.

Alternatively please consider giving FIFO workers ALL an exemption to return home and be free from this 14 days isolation.

They are often returning from states with zero cases (like SA) and are in very remote towns. These are not people travelling around and through hot spots.

They are getting the COVID test done regularly as their work also.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to a response.

Stephanie Marshall

 

If you are a Tasmanian FIFO worker affected by the current border closures and want to share your story, email cas.garvey@news.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as FIFO wives' heartache: COVID rules are separating families



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